The Africana Studies program has stumbled over problems from canceled classes to lack of student enrollment during its four years at GW. But with the hiring of a new director last week, interested students said they hope the program will receive a needed forward push.
“Because the program did not have a director, it was not running efficiently,” said Black People’s Union president James Allen.
The Columbian School of Arts and Sciences has hired James Miller as the Africana Studies program director. Miller has served as an administrator in Africana Studies at the University of South Carolina. He is the program’s first permanent director.
CSAS Dean Lester Lefton said Miller’s experience will be a great addition to GW’s faculty.
“Dr. Miller is a superb scholar, a wonderful teacher and a person that students like,” Lefton said. “Having served in a similar post before, Dr. Miller will bring leadership, vision and continuity to the Africana Studies program.”
Before Africana Studies was declared a minor four years ago, students petitioned for it to be offered at GW. But, since its inception, students and faculty have complained about classes being listed in the schedule of classes, but never offered.
BPU and the Organization of African Students joined forces in November to petition for the program to be more feasible as a minor for students.
“There were classes, but it was iffy if the classes would be offered because classes were being canceled at the last minute,” Allen said. “It did not seem that there was enough participation.”
American Studies Professor James Horton said he is happy about Miller joining the program.
“I think this is a very good thing,” Horton said. “I know him personally and he is a good scholar, a good teacher and a good administrator.”
Horton said he hoped Miller’s presence may help the Africana Studies program become a major.
Literature professor Miriam Dow, who has served as an acting director of Africana Studies, said the program is more legitimate with a director.
“It’s a credible enterprise,” Dow said. “I would not be surprised if it was turned into a major eventually. So many (students who are Africana Studies minors) are having problems getting the 21 hours required because courses are offered irregularly.”
Students in other programs said they are interested in taking the courses also.
“Students majoring in international affairs, political science and humanities are having severe problems getting their courses in their concentration,” said junior Allison Cammack, who majors in philosophy in public affairs and minors in cross cultural communications. “If they offer an Africana concentration, then they should guarantee the ability to fulfill the requirement.”
Cammack said few students minor in Africana Studies because of its erratic course offerings.
“I think people are interested in the courses but they don’t go through with getting the minor in Africana Studies,” Cammack said. “The level of dissatisfaction with the program just increases with the low number of people who are actually able to fulfill the minor.”
Lefton said he hopes Miller’s hiring will change student perspective about the program and that it may become popular with students.
“This program has not received the attention that it might have in recent years, but with Dr. Miller’s leadership, it should see a new life in the academic culture of GW,” Lefton said.
Miller could not be reached for comment. He is writing a book about African-American author Richard Wright and has published extensively about African-American literature, Lefton said.